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Jun 2019

County Durham Coat of Arms

It's a settlement by the sea, alright, and this pair of film nuts should be getting very excited. The dim and dour backdrop[1] to  Billy Elliot and  Alien 3, however, means Seaham ain't no Disney™ but with some belated redevelopment, it's become a bit of a destination.

A quick pit stop, this, but still enough time for a small-scale sculpture trail and a pair of '99's that, literally, have all of the opposition licked.

[1] Michael Caine copped it at the end of  Get Carter just south on the beach at Blackhall Rocks but, given they filmed that in 1971, that's not thought to be a major spoiler.

There's free parking behind the  Seaham Sea Angling Club, which, incidentally, shares the prize for most use of the word 'Sea' in a sign with that of 'Sea Cadets Seaham'.

The town centre doesn't particularly tempt but is worthy of a mention, perhaps, because up there is the local Wetherspoon™s.

Just for once, some proper consideration has been given naming-wise to the Hat and Feathers pub, just shown. It's a tip to the old Doggarts' department store where the millinery department were known for the accessorising plumage.

That would be getting a full (5/5) if only the '60s building was the original location. The store was somewhere on the outskirts, they say, and it's likely you had to head up to the first floor for the feathers...

Ground floor: perfumery, stationery and leather goods, wigs and haberdashery, kitchenware and food...  Going up.

The new  Byron Place Shopping Centre, sorry Seaham, could just about be anywhere but the modern sculpture at the entrance couldn't.

Local wood-whittler  David Gross has 'commemorated' Lord Byron's 1815 wedding to another local, this one a lady called Anne Isabella Milbanke.

That happened up the road at her family home, Seaham House, but preceeded a miserable period for both parties. The marriage would only last a year and he was no great fan of Seaham, neither, writing...

I have this day dined upon fish, which probably dined upon the crews of several colliers lost in the late gales

This in the days before Downey's and while it's nowhere near Byron's best work, in his defence, there really isn't much that rhymes with collier.

  Seaham Hall Hotel (Lord Byron's Walk)

Seaham House became Seaham Hall and is now one of the North East's top luxury hotel and spa destinations. It's also where premier-league popsters stay after performing at Sunderland's football ground in the summer season, sometimes.

Beyoncé, no less, insisted that staff face the walls on check-in and while that's obviously not true, probably, it's a marvellous example of the dissemination of information that the Internet really is rather good at.

Byron's pa-in-law found himself strapped for cash after forking out for the lavish bash so the 3rd Marquess of Londonderry, whoever he was, snuck in with a sneaky, low offer and Seaham House was snapped up.

Looking for a rich vein of income, Londonderry speculated on the 1820s East Durham coal rush, honestly, so he shrewdly built a harbour and charged for the cargo-carrying colliers.

The harbour's still here with only half of it now industrial. The rest has been given over to the leisurely and County Durham's only marina, no less, but only if you don't count that hairdresser's in Horden, or wherever.

  Durham Heritage Coast

The coastal road south and out has been renamed George Elmy Lifeboat Way as a tribute to the eight men and a young lad all drowned in 1962. The boat is back on display down at the marina following some fine work by the  East Durham Heritage Group but has been overlooked today, inexplicably.

The road also marks the start of the Durham Coastal Footpath, an up and down 11-miler that's just about doable in a day. Two nature reserves and where Michael Caine got popped on the way, the destination is Crimdon Dene and a deep, sandy beach with  Little terns, when in season.

These little breeders like to nest right next to the bathers, however, so there's a  cordoned off area to try and keep the numbers up and twitchers can be seen jerking furiously, from a safe distance, during the summer.

Seaham's serviceable beach[1] wasn't always quite so with the blackened spoil from the collieries still washing up as recently as 1991. The Turning the Tide Partnership polished the pebbles and cleaned up this stretch as well as paving the promenade to give people a reason to visit.

Turning the Tide evolved into the multi-agency  Durham Heritage Coast organisation, the folks behind the footpath, and hats off to whoever had the vision of promoting the area from Hendon down to Hartlepool back in the late '90s.

[1] Things are even more serviceable a little way north past the rocks at Glass Beach.

The main offender for the mess was, by then, the 6th Marquess of Londonderry, whoever he was, who decided to sink a local mine, some time after his Grandad's harbour.

He stands proudly outside of the old Londonderry Offices, now converted to 'Luxury Apartments', but he was nothing more than a fly-tipper, really, so gets little publicity here.

Two mines here, actually, Dawdon just south and Vane Tempest just north. Vane-Tempest was the family name Londonderry married into and it's pure coincidence the 3rd Marquess' young, second wife just happened to have inherited some old coal merchant's lot.

That slightly spoils the mystery of the marvellously named colliery that's ruined even further by it now having a carvery and a housing estate on it.

The war memorial once had centre stage in the middle of Terrace Green but settles now for second billing next to something of, not entirely unrelated, significance.

Affectionately known as '  Tommy',  1101 is a nine-foot-tall, steel statue and a nod to when time ticked into the first minute of the armistice. The coat looks like it should fold when you feel it and his weary sigh is almost audible.

As big bits of public artwork go, this one is, for once, fully fathomable and is, quite frankly, fantastic. It was intended as a temporary installation but caused such a stir, the town had a whip-round to make the stay permanent with some help from their friends at Durham Heritage Coast.

The creator Ray Lonsdale is a former steel fabricator from the area who swapped making railings for the council to pursue something more creative.

It's not known if he had a hand in these railings, the die-cast poppies stamped with the details of men and women from Seaham all killed in global conflicts.

At the time of writing, it feels that the world is a very different place to the not-too-distant past. President Trumper hasn't pressed that button just yet and blustering Boris is bluffing badly over Brexit™, the big buffoon.

Dr Who is now a lassie but, stranger still, they're now sipping Rioja and eating  tapas, outside... in County Durham! The world really has changed, hasn't it, eh?

  Lickety Split Creamery (North Terrace)

They're queuing down to Dawdon most days at Lickety Split, purveyors of the best ice cream, and some, in County Durham, scratch that the North East, scratch that the UK, scratch that the world!

It's so popular, you might have to settle for Creams of Seaham, a rival operator two doors down, who look to be mopping up the milky overspill.

Meanwhile, back in Lickety's, no  Monkey's Blood thanks, awful stuff, but crushed nuts? No, it's just the way I talk and that one's so old, it can be credited to Lord Byron.

Three mines here, actually, and Seaham Colliery is represented in The Brothers by Brian Brown, another local sculptor who, himself, is an ex-miner.

All of these little touches have lifted Seaham from the downbeat to a day tripper's destination and with only a pre-millenium memory, this pair left feeling a lot jollier than when they arrived.

Hang on! Doesn't that rhyme with collier? Yes, if only Lord Byron had been that way inclined.